Saturday, December 09, 2006

When Losing Out On Free Agents Isn't Such A Bad Thing

There are two ways to look at the Jays' performance at the MLB winter meetings. On the one hand, they came out of it with little more than an aging Canadian outfielder and a whole lot of talk. But what's really important here is what they didn't come out of Disneyland with, that is, two wildly overpaid mediocre pitchers.

They had their sites on two fairly average pitchers, Ted Lilly and Gil Meche. Lilly of course had a very decent '06 with the Jays and Gil Meche had a decent season of his own with the Mariners. This being MLB free agency, both were in line for major pay increases, both aiming for about four years and $40 million.

The Jays said they had about $20 million to spend, and were gunning to sign both, even though it amounted to overpaying for mediocrity. Thankfully, that didn't happen. The Cubbies snatched Lilly, after Lilly more or less made it clear that despite previous sound bites to the contrary, he had never really thought of re-upping with Toronto.

Meche would then sign with Kansas City, of all places. We're kinda pissed about this one. Not that he didn't choose Toronto, because we're actually pretty cool with that, but that of all the teams he could have rejected Toronto for, he choose the Royals. The freaking Royals! It was probably helped by the $55 million they threw at him, which does a remarkable job of glossing over the fact that Kansas won't likely be competitive for the five year span of the deal.

So two middle level free agents snubbed Toronto, but that's cool, because it kept J.P Ricciardi from doing anything stupid, like handcuffing the fortunes of this team to two merely average players. We'd like to express our gratitude to the GM's of Chicago and Kansas for forcing the Jays to dodge those twin bullets (and while were at it, to Theo Epstein for making sure the Jays never signed Matt Clement. That was a close one).

What does that mean for Toronto's starting five? Roy Halladay, A.J Burnett and Gustavo Chacin are solid, but it's the other two spots that will cause problems. Right now, barring trades, or maybe a late signing (Jeff Suppan anyone?) those two spots will be filled by any combination of Shaun Marcum, Dustin McGowan, Casey Janssen and (gulp) Josh Towers.

The Jays still have $20 million to spend mind you, and here's where that money should go: Vernon Wells. The mini-storm in Toronto right now is V-Dub being left off the official team Christmas card and early winter advertising. It's obvious that the Jays management are worried about their ability to keep Wells as a Jay, after all, Alfonso Soriano signed for $136 million, and no one would tell you that Vernon isn't worth more in a game than Soriano. Wells is sitting on a huge payday should he become a free agent after next season, and it should be the Jays' priority to make sure he never gets that far.

The Jays should either sign him for a gazillion dollars, or they should trade him immediately, while they could still get an impressive package in return. Waiting at this point would just be stupid.


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